Think about a day in your middle schooler’s life. Maybe it looks something like this: wake up and check her phone, breakfast while scrolling through TikTok, check Instagram in the car on the way to school, text in between classes, group video chats after school, and video games late into the night. It may sound like a lot, but the reality is that most teen girls are using technology constantly throughout their day. And while using technology is not necessarily a bad thing, there is a point where that technology use crosses into something more harmful.
The Dangers of Technology Addiction
One of the biggest dangers of technology addiction is isolation. Kids who are spending all of their time online aren’t interacting or creating meaningful connections with their peers in real life. They may lose interest in activities because they are so preoccupied with social media or video games. This sense of disconnect can lead to feelings of sadness and anxiety.
Middle school girls with technology addiction may also feel a deep sense of attachment to their electronic devices. They may feel angry or lash out physically when they are separated from the device. If they have been asked to stay offline, young girls may resort to lying or sneaking around to continue their use.
Teen girls who are overly dependent on technology may begin to lose interests in activities and hobbies. Parents may also notice a negative effect on their child’s sleep pattern, their personal hygiene, or their school habits.
What Causes Technology Addiction?
Middle school girls who are experiencing these feelings of isolation may use technology as a coping mechanism. A way to “self-medicate” against those negative feelings and thoughts. This is similar to the way someone who abuses alcohol will use the substance to feel numb or alleviate those difficult emotions. Interactions on social media give teens a little hit of dopamine which can help diminish negative thoughts. But once they feel that boost, they begin to crave that feeling of validation, which can turn into a dangerous cycle. They feel disconnected so they spend more time on the internet. But those connections are not real or meaningful. So they post again to get that feeling again.
Treatment for Technology Addiction
There are ways that parents can help their teens develop a healthy relationship with technology:
- Set Limits: Create structure or time frame around their tech time. For example, maybe their homework needs to be done before they have free time on their tablet. It is important that your daughter understands the rules she needs to follow.
- Work Together: Work alongside your daughter to teach her as she learns about technology. Understand that she is going to make mistakes as she learns, but the key is to not overreact to those mistakes. Parents can create an environment where their teen feels comfortable enough to talk about what is going on in their lives.
- Unplug: Schedule time away from technology. When there is constant access to their phones, it’s hard to put them down. Middle school girls need to see the merits in life outside of technology. Maybe that’s reconnecting with a favorite pastime. Or maybe it’s something as simple as a dinner together with phones put away. It’s a reminder that the connections outside of technology feel much more powerful than the internet ones.
Working Through Technology Addiction at Asheville Academy for Girls
At Asheville Academy for Girls, we begin by removing technological distractions, like personal phones. Once that distraction is taken away, they are able to start to face the issues that have led them to technology dependency. As they work on those issues, they work with skilled clinicians to build healthy coping skills. They are able to learn to deal with the emotions that they have been trying to ignore through technology use. Therapists also work with students and their families together. This helps parents process their daughter’s past behaviors and families understand how to best use technology in the future.
Students at AAG eventually resume use of technology through a phased system. We know that living without technology at all is not realistic for teens. This system starts small, with short periods of time to call family on cell phones, and can expand to social media and apps. Understanding their technology use will also be worked into their individual therapy.
If you have a middle school girl who is struggling with technology addiction, please call (828) 604-6434 for more information about how AAG can help.
Katie was born just outside of Richmond, Virginia. She likes to spend her time hiking, working out, doing jigsaw puzzles, and spending time with her family and friends. She moved to Asheville in 2014 after working six months with AmeriCorps in Denver, Colorado after graduating from Western Carolina University. At Western, she received a Bachelors in Science for Psychology with a minor in Health and Physical Education, while playing D1 soccer. Since moving to Asheville, Katie has worked in psychiatric residential treatment facilities and level III group homes with students ages 12 to 17 with various mental health and substance use diagnosis.